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Developmental trends in human beings vary in two important ways.
They differ in:
• Their generality
• How strictly they are sequenced and hierarchical
1) Developmental Trends differ in their generality
Some theories or models of development boldly assert that certain changes happen to virtually every person on the planet, and often at relatively predictable points in life.
A theory might assert that virtually every toddler acquires a spoken language, or that every teenager forms a sense of personal identity.
Individuals who do not experience these developments would be rare, though not necessarily disabled as a result.
Developing a female gender role does not happen to everyone, but only to the females in a population, and the details vary according to the family, community, or society in which a child lives.
2) Developmental Trends differ in how strictly they are sequenced and hierarchical
In some views of development, changes are thought to happen in a specific order and to build on each other—sort of a “staircase” model of development (Case, 1991, 1996).
A developmental psychologist might argue that young people must have tangible, hands-on experience with new materials before they can reason about the materials in the abstract. The order cannot be reversed.
In other views of development, change happens, but not with a sequence or end point that is uniform. This sort of change is more like a “kaleidoscope” than a staircase (Levinson, 1990; Lewis, 1997; Harris, 2006).
A person who becomes permanently disabled may experience complex long-term changes in personal values and priorities that are different both in timing and content from most people's developmental pathway.
When addressing teachers and other educators, educational psychologists have tended to emphasise explanations of development that are relatively general, universal and sequential, rather than specific to particular cultures or that are not sequenced or kaleidoscopic (Woolfolk, 2006; Slavin, 2005). Such models (sometimes called “grand theories”) have the advantage of concisely integrating many features of development, while also describing the kind of people children or adolescents usually end up being.
The preference for integrative perspectives makes sense given educators’ need to work with and teach large numbers of diverse students both efficiently and effectively. But the approach also risks overgeneralizing or oversimplifying the experiences of particular children and youth. It can also confuse what does happen as certain children (like the middle-class ones) develop with what should happen to children.
To understand this point, imagine two children of about the same age who have dramatically very different childhood experiences—for example, one who grows up in poverty and another who grows up financially well-off. In what sense can we say that these two children experience the same underlying developmental changes as they grow up? And how much should they even be expected to do so?
Developmental psychology, and especially the broad theories of developmental psychology, highlights the “sameness” or common ground between these two children. As such, it serves as counterpoint to knowledge of their obvious uniqueness, and places their uniqueness in broader perspective.
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